By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOUISVILLE Kentucky (Reuters) - United States Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson has not yet ruled an ailing Tiger Woods out of his team to take on holders Europe in Gleneagles, Scotland from September 26-28.
Though Woods missed the fourth major cut of his professional career at last week's PGA Championship after playing a limited schedule this year following back surgery, Watson is still considering him as a possible wildcard pick.
"The most important thing is his health," Watson told reporters at Valhalla Golf Club on Monday, a day after the automatic top-nine selections in his team had been inked in for Gleneagles.
"I've said it consistently all the way through the issue with Tiger after his injury. If he's healthy and is playing well, I'll pick him. Right now, his health is not good.
"He is Tiger Woods and he brings a lot to the team, if he has the ability to play and he's healthy. He brings a lot to the team. And I'd be a fool not to consider him."
Woods had only pronounced himself fit to compete at Valhalla Golf Club on the eve of the tournament, having suffered a back scare three days earlier, and looked rusty and out-of-sorts in both rounds.
The 14-times major winner has given no indication as to when he will next compete, and many pundits believe he will probably shut down his playing commitments for the rest of the year.
"I just need to get stronger first," said Woods, who had a procedure to treat a pinched nerve in his back on March 31. "We'll see from there."
While Woods is most unlikely to get the nod from Watson, the U.S. captain has been delighted by the motivation already shown by his players as the Americans bid to end a run of seven losses against Europe in the last nine editions of the Ryder Cup.
"I'm wonderfully happy with the team," Watson said. "I believe that each and every player has the ability to play great golf and compete in the highest level in the Ryder Cup.
"My job as a captain is to inspire them, if I can, and the motivation is there. These players are motivated to the nth degree to win this Ryder Cup. And that's all I ask of them.”
At the 2012 Ryder Cup in Chicago, the U.S. threw away a commanding four-point lead heading into the final day in what became known as the 'Meltdown at Medinah', losing to Europe by 14-1/2 points to 13-1/2.
The automatic nine qualifiers for Watson’s 2014 team after the PGA Championship were Masters champion Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Zach Johnson.
The Americans are already without long-hitting Dustin Johnson, who has taken an indefinite leave of absence to deal with "personal challenges", and there are concerns over world number six Kuchar, who withdrew before the start of the PGA Championship due to back spasms.
Watson will announce his three wildcard picks on Sept. 2, the day after the PGA Tour's Deutsche Bank Championship finishes in Norton, Massachusetts.
“As far as my three (wildcard) spots are concerned, over the next three weeks I'll be very, very focused on the players who are high up in the ranks,” said Watson.
“And with that said, there's a factor that I look at most and that's the gut factor; the factor that, can that man play under pressure, can that man hit the shots under pressure.”
(Editing by Frank Pingue)